Innovation hubs in West London and Brighton to open next year with four more planned around the UK, providing cutting edge workspaces with state-of-the-art prototype workshops and bio labs.
Plus X, an ambitious new business aimed at creating a national network of localised innovation hubs, has unveiled a strategy for six sites around the country, in London, Brighton, Birmingham, Manchester and Oxford.
Launched by innovation leaders and Co-CEOs Mat Hunter and Paul Rostas, with backing from listed specialist regeneration developer U+I, Plus X will go beyond the desk space model of mainstream co-working providers to offer the mentoring and business support required by entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, start-ups and scale-ups at the leading edge of the new economy.
Importantly, Plus X will also provide state-of-the-art workshops, biolabs and digital media studios, with leading technology and equipment to enable residents to develop concepts and create product prototypes. The hubs will build on existing experience of cultivating opportunities to collaborate with local authorities, universities, colleges, research institutions and larger businesses to help drive business growth.
Plus X will launch its first innovation hub at U+I’s Preston Barracks development in January next year, one of Brighton’s largest ever regeneration schemes. Next will be The Old Vinyl Factory, U+I’s major regeneration development in Hayes, where the second Plus X will open in 2020. U+I is also exploring opportunities to put Plus X facilities in its schemes in Manchester, Greenwich, Birmingham and Oxford.
Although the first wave of Plus X hubs will be located within U+I developments, the business will also seek opportunities within schemes promoted by other developers, local authorities or public sector organisations.
The Plus X model will cater for single entrepreneurs or teams of up to 100 people, offering a range of innovation programmes and business growth services, from marketing to team talent experts. Each hub will also include an accelerator or incubator programme, comprising cohorts of entrepreneurial businesses of all sizes that will receive intensive business support and mentoring.
The Plus X model is based on a proof of concept innovation hub currently housed at The Old Vinyl Factory, a 17-acre brownfield site that was once Thorn EMI’s headquarters, home to EMI Records, as well as The Central Research Laboratory, an institution of British engineering innovation that spawned the development of broadcasting systems, stereo, airborne radar and the CAT scanner.
Building on that heritage and reviving the site’s historic name, U+I re-established the Central Research Laboratory (CRL) in 2015 as an incubation hub for start-ups within the tech, digital, engineering and ‘maker’ sectors.
Since opening, CRL has supported more than 100 businesses, including 25 new start-ups, with more than 60 full-time jobs created and over £5m in investment raised. Businesses include Aceleron, which has developed solutions to repurpose car batteries; Mimica, which has developed a high-tech food freshness indicator; BotsAndUs, a robotics and AI company developing autonomous tech for public spaces; and the multi-award winning Cosi Care, which has developed a device to sooth chronic eczema and has received angel investment from Touker Suleyman of Dragon’s Den fame.
Building on its success, next year CRL will expand into new 29,000 sq ft premises at the Powerhouse building, becoming the second Plus X.
Plus X is being led by Co-CEOs Mat Hunter, who began his career in Silicon Valley with world-renowned innovation agency IDEO, working with start-ups and corporates to pioneer digital products and services, and Paul Rostas, whose multi-decade career spans working for some of the biggest corporations and investment banks including senior positions at JP Morgan.
Mat Hunter, Co-CEO of Plus X, said: “Plus X is about creating workspaces that unlock potential, drive business growth, innovation, community collaboration and positive social impact. The success of CRL at The Old Vinyl Factory has shown the possibilities – now we want to expand with a network of innovation hubs around the country. But this is not about a ‘cookie cutter’ approach: our plans are for a national network but with a localised offer, working with the grain of the local economy to foster entrepreneurs, start-ups and scale-ups that are at the leading edge of the new economy.”
Paul Rostas, Co-CEO of Plus X, added: “We will help local businesses grow faster and create high value job opportunities, while our in-house innovation and accelerator programmes will attract investment from national and global businesses. This is not just about providing desks; it’s about giving the new generation of entrepreneurs, inventors, start-ups and scaling businesses all the support and facilities they need, including state-of-the-art prototype workshops, bio-labs and digital media studios. All of this will happen under one roof in buildings that are designed by leading architects to be highly sustainable and healthy to work in.”
U+I has a 50% stake in Plus X and the buildings it will occupy in Brighton and Hayes are the subject of a £30m investment by U+I. Plus X is aimed at creating a hub of economic activity within a development, attracting further occupiers, sparking and accelerating the virtuous circle of business activity essential to the success of large-scale regeneration schemes that can take many years or even decades to complete.
The Plus X hubs will be designed with a ‘whole building’ model, with start-up and accelerator space on the ground floor, ‘move on space’ to allow businesses to grow but stay within the building on the mid-levels, and then a curated set of larger corporates on the upper floors that will both collaborate with and benefit from the innovators and inventors in the building.
A study commissioned for U+I and Plus X undertaken by economic consultant Real Worth, has found the societal value forecasted to be generated by the six new Plus X hubs planned is just over £564m over a five-year period, equating to a value of around £112m a year. This means that for every £1 invested in a Plus X, £5.51 of societal value is generated for stakeholders.
The Real Worth study also compares the economic and social benefits of a Plus X to other occupier models, including a traditional office tenant and a conventional co-working space provider. It finds a Plus X creates as much as 160 times more social and economic value as that of a traditional office, and 16 times more value than that of a mainstream co-working provider.
Richard Upton, chief development officer at U+I, said: “Backing Plus X underlines our commitment to delivering large-scale regeneration projects that are distinctive, local, authentic and genuinely transformational. Our approach to bringing life back to former industrial sites is to work with the heritage of the place and create a new locus of activity and productivity fit for the 21st century. Plus X helps us to do that by catalysing economic activity and creating a magnet that attracts people and businesses into a new area.
“Importantly, we have proven the success of this model at The Old Vinyl Factory: where EMI once drove world-leading innovation we have now supported more than 100 modern businesses who are at the leading edge of the new economy, contributing significantly to the local area. We will now expand this model, working with enterprising local authorities to create a localised national network of innovation hubs that will not only transform once vibrant industrial areas but support a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to remake the UK’s economy.”